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Handling life's crossroads

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John Short/Newscom/File

(Read caption) Some decisions are so big they can change the trajectory of your entire life.

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Every so often, we’re met with a situation in our lives that represents a seriously life alteration. If we go one way, our whole life is going to go down a different path than if we chose the other option.

These can take a lot of forms. The choice to marry someone. The choice to divorce someone. The choice to change career paths. The choice to sign a long-term contract. The choice to retire.

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When we’re faced with one of these moments in our lives, it can be an incredible challenge. Often, both directions offer some positives and some negatives.

The usual advice in situations like this is to make a list of pros and cons. That’s often a powerful first step, but it’s just that – a first step.

The real challenge comes in when you’re looking at those pros and cons and you’re trying to figure out which set comes out on top. Here are some of my thoughts on the issue.

Maintaining things the way they are now isn’t really much of a positive. If the way things are was satisfying you, you likely wouldn’t be at this crossroads thinking about this decision.

Keeping things the same is often very tempting because, as humans, we’re creatures of habit. However, if you’re keeping things on a path that led you to these crossroads, it’s not really much of a positive.

If you can maintain an extremely basic standard of living, choose the path with the most upside. Often, a crossroads is a choice between a “safe” path with less risk and a “risky” path with the greatest positive potential outcome. If the risky path offers at least a minimal standard of living as the worst case scenario, the risky path should be strongly considered.

Why? Almost always, when we choose the more challenging path, we never regret not choosing the easy path. However, when we choose the easy path, we often find ourselves regretting not taking that more challenging path.

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Set yourself a firm deadline. More often than we’d like, a difficult decision at a crossroads is decided by indecision. We sit on it and hem and haw until the decision is essentially made for us – and that usually takes us down the safe path.

Instead, set yourself a tight deadline for resolving this crossroads and hold yourself to it. One effective way to do this is to inform interested parties of your self-imposed deadline by telling them that you’ll have a decision by that date. This puts some additional pressure on you to actually move forward with a decision.

Talk to people with experience at this same crossroads. Internet forums can be perfect for this as it allows you to anonymize yourself, but there’s also incredible value in talking to trusted friends about such things, too.

Simply put, you’re looking for advice from people who have gone through something like what you’re going through. This advice can be incredibly useful, but you also need to filter it a little. Make sure that people are being genuine, and ignore advice from people who seem to have an axe to grind. Usually, their anger has little or nothing to do with what you’re saying or what your situation is.

Crossroads can be difficult places. Good luck on whatever path you follow from here.